Sheffield nursery gets parents' backing in 'free' childcare funding row

Parents have defended nurseries in Sheffield which claim inadequate government funding for so-called 'free' childcare is threatening their livelihoods.

Tuesday, 16th January 2018, 8:37 pm
Updated Tuesday, 16th January 2018, 8:40 pm
Staff at Treetops, one of Cornerstone Nurseries' three Sheffield sites at which parents are being asked to contribute towards the cost of providing so-called 'free' childcare

Nurseries offering 30 hours of free childcare to working parents are allowed to charge for extras like nappies and lunches, even when those expenses were included in fees previously.

But one nursery owner who runs three sites in Sheffield is now asking those parents for £30 a week to cover what she calls the 'all-encompassing' cost of care, from wages to heating bills, which she says government funding for the initiative fails to meet.

The Star reported last week on the potentially controversial stance adopted by Cornerstone Nurseries director Paula Malik, who said she was not prepared to lie to parents about what the money was for.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Her words appear to have struck a chord with many parents, along with staff and managers at other nurseries, with dozens of people commenting to express their support.

Lorraine Hague, who runs Steps Community Nursery in High Green, Sheffield, said parents there were already being asked to pay for their children's snacks but this was not covering the funding shortfall and it was considering increasing fees for those paying for childcare.

"Nurseries are trying their best to survive and they have been put in this awful situation through a very ill-thought-out policy," she said.

"We want to maintain the quality service we offer but it won't be possible with rising costs of premises, salaries, pensions, resources etc on the rate we receive for funded places!"

She believes parents should be given a set amount for childcare which they can choose where to spend, leaving nurseries free to set their own charges.

Carrie Brown said: "How are nurseries supposed to pay for wages and other expenses when the government only gives £4-odd per child? We are still saving money, just helping the business tick over as well."

Stuart Blunden said nurseries were businesses and needed enough funding to cover their costs.

"£4 an hour is just not enough," he added. "My dog walker charges £5 an hour, and I visit a car park in a hospital that charges nearly £4 an hour!"

Holly Hobart commented: "You can't fault the nurseries. The government has promised something it can't deliver. Our nursery can't offer the full 30 hours as the government doesn't cover the cost."

Abbey Cassey said she pays for her son's place and the fee had increased by £1.50 per session, while those with funded places were being asked for £2 a day towards meals.

"At the end of the day it’s still a business. The Government isn’t giving them enough to fully cover the cost of childcare!" she added.

The Department for Education has said it provides £4.57 per child per hour in Sheffield, which it claims is significantly higher than the average £3.72 cost of providing a place.